Sunday, June 23, 2013

Making It Mine - The 2000 Les Paul Junior

For the past 30 years, or so, I have admired the Les Paul Junior model, with the double-cutaway body. I think it's the best-looking guitar design, ever, for one thing. For another, Lesley West of Mountain, John Lennon, Keith Richards, etc., etc. have all famously played them.

Plus, the P-90 pickup has a different sound than the humbuckers in other LPs. So, I recently picked up the example above. I bought it off of eBay, and immediately regretted it, once I had it. The neck felt way too wide and flat, and the P-100 pickups (a stacked humbucker version of the P-90) had a good tone if I turned the tone knob back to 6. But that cut the output of the signal so much that you couldn't hear me over Steve's drums, at my standard amp settings.

I measured the neck, and measured the neck on Cooper (my 2003 LP Special), which is dead perfect. Oddly, after about ten times of measuring, I figured out that the two necks were exactly alike, wood-wise. The difference lay in the finish which had been laid over the wood.

Cooper is painted, with little or no clear coat over the color coat. Many people don't like that finish, because it rubs off pretty easily.

Embiggen this picture, and you may be able to see what I mean. Cooper has a matte look, and the paint is coming off of the top, while the Junior is glossy-glossy. Personally, I prefer the look of Cooper's finish. Moreover, the neck finish has worn down, nicely, on Cooper, so that I can actually feel the wood grain, slightly, in places. It reminds me of the feel of my 1948 ES-125.

As I did my measuring of neck widths and thicknesses, it occurred to me that the difference in feel between the two was soley due to the excess clear coat on the Junior. So, I decided to fix that.

I took a wood chisel, and started carefully scraping the finish off of the neck of the Junior. I was a bit stunned to see that there was well over 1mm of paint on the neck, which added up to about a 3mm overall difference in width, when compared to Cooper's neck. So, I went wild and took the finish off, down to wood.

What a difference! The neck felt perfect, identical to Cooper's. So, I busted out the wood stain, and put a bit of color on it (again, to match the look of the '48 ES-125).

The results of the staining were very satisfactory. 

Now, all I had to do was address the pickup problem. I had some aftermarket P-90 pickups in my guitar parts, and I considered swapping them out. But, I really wanted to maintain the integrity of the guitar, and stick with Gibson pickups. The problem is, the Gibson P-90s would cost me upward of $200.00, and I just don't have that much to shell out, in addition to the purchase price of the guitar.

I read a few guitar forums, looking for info on the P-100 pickup, to see what others had done. One fellow posted that he simply cut the black ground wire between the upper and lower coils, which essentially turned the P-100 humbucker into a P-90 single-coil.

I wasn't sure that would work (can't believe everything that you read on the internet), but I figured I had nothing to lose. I disassembled the guitar, including removal of the pickguard, and snipped the wires.

I much prefer the look of the Junior without the pickguard.

I put it all back together, sans pickguard, and hooked it to the amp. Oh, yeah! That was what I wanted to hear. A little bit of pickup height adjustment, and a few adjustments to the pole pieces, and the thing was wailing. Yes, it gets the 60-cycle hum in my house (as does every other single-coil-equipped guitar that I own), but it absolutely screams. I even found myself playing on the bridge pickup, a bit, as I was trying it out, and I rarely switch off from the neck pickup on any guitar.

So, I guess I ruined the resale value of the instrument, where those "mint condition, looks unplayed" guys are concerned. But, as of now, I don't ever plan to sell it, anyway. All three of my Gibsons are keepers, at this point.

By the way, I will be playing the junior on five songs, at Herman's Hideaway, this coming Saturday (June 29, at 6:00 PM, if you can make it).